Interview: ‘A Woman’s Woman’
Santa Monica’s Bettina Duval works behind the scenes to help women attain political office
By Christina Campodonico
If you’re a woman seeking elected office in California, Bettina Duval’s probably got your back. She’s the founder and president of The CaliforniaLIST, a political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to public office throughout the state.
Duval will be honored by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce’s Organization of Women Leaders at the group’s International Women’s Day Breakfast on Monday, March 7.
Golden Globe-winning actress Jennifer Garner is also being recognized for her contributions to the Santa Monica community and to Save the Children, an early education program for children in rural America.
Duval’s CaliforniaLIST has helped to elect more than 60 women to state government, and she’s optimistic that the 2016 election cycle will offer more opportunities for women candidates and voters to take charge.
Raised by a single working mom in Northern California in the 1960s, Duval, 55, has long felt the need to support and stand by women.
“I’ve always been a woman’s woman, so to speak,” she says.
Duval studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and thought about becoming a lawyer, but issues closer to home spurred her to think about how the lives of women could be improved. She remembers her grandfather having to co-sign on a loan so that her mother could buy a house in 1972.
Internships with state legislators led Duval to work for the Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign after college. She later became the Southern California director of EMILY’s List, a PAC that assists women running for legislative and executive office.
Now Duval, a mother of four, is busy mentoring The CaliforniaLIST’s new cadre of female millennial leaders to ensure that the next generation of women activists and voters, like her two daughters, can continue to exercise their rights and break glass ceilings.
What motivated you to become politically active?
My senior year in high school I worked for then state Assemblyman Vic Fazio, who also went to Congress, and John Dunlap, who was a state senator. And I had a lot of errands. So I went in my little white VW Bug to the state capitol, and I went to the Senate floor and looked down on this beautiful room. But I looked and it was [almost] all men. … Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re seeing, but I just knew that something was wrong. I think that was the motivating force because inherently I’ve always been supportive of women. I’ve always been a woman’s woman, so to speak.
Since starting The CaliforniaLIST in 2002, what have you found to be the biggest barriers for women seeking elected office?
At that time, the biggest challenge that women had was raising money. An individual would still give more to a man than they would give to a woman. The other dilemma women had was actually relationships in Sacramento. To run for office you need to be able to raise $100,000 right off the bat. You need to have some kind of contact up in Sacramento. And you need to have yourself established within your own community, so that they know who you are. It was and actually still is an old boys’ network up in Sacramento, and that’s something candidates still face.
Is it better now?
Absolutely. I don’t think it’s an anomaly for a woman to run for office. I think that, especially with Hillary Clinton … we’re changing the face of power. She’s a viable candidate. Nobody’s questioning that. The idea of a woman running for office today is much easier for most of us to accept.
The dilemma we have right now is that women are not really running for office. And that’s one of the reasons why things have been in tremendous decline. … Since I started in 2002, politics has gotten really, really awful. And it didn’t use to be so bad. What seems to be happening is that good female candidates, even good male candidates, are opting out. Women in particular don’t really want to have their families or their lives so completely on display and then criticized.
With Hillary Clinton running, what do you think this year’s presidential election is going to mean for women voters and for women candidates?
I think you’re going to hear a lot about women. You’re already starting to hear about the young millennial women who are not voting for Hillary. … I think you’re starting to really address the issue of women running for office, the sexism that exists for women running for office. And I think that you’re going to see a large number of women coming out [to vote].
What do you make of young women supporting Bernie Sanders over Clinton?
I don’t think my generation, who really did experience a glass ceiling — and there still is a glass ceiling — we didn’t really teach the next generation what happened and what is going on. If you’re Jewish you have museums. You have stories. You have a complete curriculum that is teaching you about what happened in the Holocaust. But the women’s movement has never really been in the forefront of people’s minds. To understand Gloria Steinem’s journey to where she is today. To understand Madeline Albright’s challenges. To understand Hillary’s challenges. And Michelle Obama’s challenges. I don’t think most young women really understand the journey that took them to where they are today.
I think if they knew it a little bit more, I think there would be a little bit more respect for the campaign that Hillary is running. Otherwise, I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know why some old white male is appealing to them.
This is truly the most interesting election I have ever experienced. It’s fascinating. It’s just unbelievable.
What was your most exciting campaign?
The Mondale-Ferraro campaign. When Geraldine Ferraro was nominated to be the vice presidential candidate, I think that was one of the most exciting moments for me. I was actually working in DC at that time. It was momentous, because at that point in time there was still not a large number of women in Congress. It was just one of those moments. It was a wow!
The International Women’s Day Breakfast happens from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday, March 7, at the Le Meridien Delfina Hotel, 530 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $50 to $65 at smchamber.com/owl.